The story behind Keith Haring’s subversive Berlin Wall mural

Keith Haring painting the Berlin Wall, photo Peter Matera
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Photo: Peter Matera/streetiam.com

Introduction

As an outspoken social rights activist, Keith Haring was not one to shy away from controversy. His Berlin Wall Mural is just that – controversial and provocative. In fact, Haring himself told The New York Times1 that the mural was a “subversive” act that was meant to make a political statement, and help on a psychological level destroy the Berlin Wall.

Mesmerizing, conspicuous and intriguing, the Berlin Wall Mural was a masterpiece that helped put both street art and Keith Haring on the map. It took Haring about 6 hours to complete painting the mural over a yellow background a team had applied the previous day. The mural itself was commissioned by Checkpoint Charlie2 Museum’s director, Rainer Hildebrandt.

Berlin Wall Mural, 1986

Keith Haring’s Berlin Wall Mural spread over across a 300m long portion of the 100-mile Berlin Wall3 (the ‘Berliner Mauer’). The project was highly publicized and equally risky for Haring. The mural was composed of human figures who were interlinked at their feet and their hands. Of course, the interconnected human symbols were designed to signify the quest for unity of people, as opposed to the idea of constructing such an obtrusive wall. The choice of colors used by Haring matched those found in the German flag: yellow (representing gold), red and black.

The destruction of the painting

Unfortunately, the 300-meter stretch Haring had painted the mural was vandalized, destroyed and painted over by other artists by the time the wall came down on 9 November 1991. Although the actual mural is no longer there, Keith Haring is often given credit for agitating for free movement of East Berliners to the Federal Republic of West Germany.

Photos: Color

Keith Haring in front of his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring in front of his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Photo: E. Bruhn-Hoffmann/AP/picture-alliance/dw.com

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Photo: Heinz J. Kuzdas/tate.org.uk

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986

Photos: Black & White

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Photo: Vladimir Sichov/vladimirsichov.me

Photos: Destruction of the painting

Keith Haring - Berlin Wall Mural, 1986, photo Heinz J. Kuzdas
Keith Haring – Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Photo: Heinz J. Kuzdas/tate.org.uk

Keith Haring - Berlin Wall Mural, 1986, The Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie, 1987
The Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie with Keith Haring’s mural, 1987

About the artist

Born Keith Allen Haring in 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Keith Haring was one of the most prolific American pop artists. His paintings grew out of the NYC street culture of the 1980s. He was a painter, a street artist, a social rights activist and an avid HIV/AIDS awareness movement advocate, all wrapped into one. He was known for whipping up colorful and artistic murals on New York streets, subway stations and even cars. Funny enough, he was famous for referring to the subways as his “lab.” Since the early 1980s, Haring started organizing exhibitions at the popular Club 574.

All images by Keith Haring Art Foundation/haring.com unless otherwise noted.

Video: Short interview with Keith Haring in front of the Berlin Wall

51sec

Location: Checkpoint Charlie


Painting does no longer exist
Friedrichstraße 43-45, 10117 Berlin, Germany
The portion of the Berlin Wall painted by Haring was located to the right of the entrance to the border crossing Friedrichstraße, Checkpoint Charlie

Keith Haring painting his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986
Keith Haring in front of his Berlin Wall Mural, 1986

Other important works

Related readings

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/1986/10/24/arts/keith-haring-paints-mural-on-berlin-wall.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Checkpoint_Charlie
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Club_57
Discover more ..

 

Last updated on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*


Stay in touch

We would love to keep the conversation going.

Please join us on Pinterest, YouTube or Instagram.

Want inspiration in your inbox?